Amputation is the loss of an arm, leg, hand, or foot. Leg amputations most often are done surgically, and usually because of complications from diabetes or atherosclerosis, but traumatic accidents can also cause the loss of a limb. Amputation of a hand or arm is often the result of an industrial accident. If an amputation makes a person unable to work, the amputee might be eligible for Social Security disability benefits—under certain circumstances.
The fact that you have had a body part amputated doesn't automatically qualify you for disability benefits. The only exceptions to this rule are if you have had both hands amputated, a leg amputated up through the hip joint ("hip disarticulation"), or a pelvic amputation ("hemipelvectomy").
For all other amputations, there are additional requirements that you need to meet in order to be found disabled. The Social Security Administration (SSA) lists the few circumstances where you can automatically qualify for benefits in its Listings of Impairments. Amputations are considered under listing 1.20.
If you don't meet the official listing, you can still be found disabled if you are able to prove that your amputation makes it impossible for you to work.
To "meet" (qualify under) the SSA's medical listing for amputations, you must have suffered one of the following:
To qualify under the listing for the last two types of amputations where you need an assistive device to walk, you must have a prescription from your doctor that shows you need the device for a continuous period of at least 12 months.
Most amputees won't qualify under the above impairment listing—for instance, these applicants wouldn't meet the official Social Security listing:
But you might be able to qualify for disability benefits if your amputation has reduced your "functional capacity" to such an extent that there is no work you can do, given your age, education, and experience.
The SSA will give you a rating of the type of work it thinks you can do (sedentary work, light work, medium work, or heavy work) based on all of your symptoms and limitations, including any doctors' restrictions (such as no lifting more than ten pounds or no crawling, kneeling, or working at unprotected heights). The type of work you can do forms the basis of your "residual functional capacity" (RFC). If the SSA determines there are no jobs you can be expected to do with your RFC, there's a chance you could qualify for disability benefits under what's called a "medical-vocational allowance."
Here are some examples of the level of work the SSA might assign you to:
The lower the RFC, the fewer jobs you can do. And your chances of getting disability through a medical-vocational allowance are higher if you're over 50.
For instance, if you have a sedentary RFC, you're likely to be considered disabled if you're over 50, have a high school education, and have limited job skills. But if you're younger than 50 and literate, the SSA will assume that you can learn a new job that's doable with your physical limitations. For more information, see Nolo's article on how Social Security decides disability based on your abilities and limitations.
The SSA will request your medical records from your treating doctor. Your records should include documentation of your amputation, your ability to use a prosthetic device, and your ability to walk, bend, squat and rise.
Your doctor should also address the likelihood that your functional limitations will improve or whether your condition is likely to stay the same. To get Social Security disability benefits, your disability must have lasted or be expected to last at least twelve months. If your amputation was recent, and the SSA believes you will be able to walk fairly well within 12 months, the agency will deny you benefits.
You can apply by phone or online whether you're applying for SSI (for applicants with low-income) or SSDI (for workers who have paid taxes over many years). Calling Social Security at 800-772-1213 or go online to www.ssa.gov. To complete the disability application, you'll need the contact information and dates of treatment for all of your medical providers, the dates of any medical tests, and the names, addresses, and dates of employment for all of your employers in the last 15 years.
For more information, see our article on applying for Social Security disability benefits.
When you apply for SSI disability benefits, you might be able to get immediate cash payments if you have had one of the following:
This is called "presumptive disability"—the SSA assumes that your condition will qualify for disability benefits, so it starts paying them right away. The SSA will pay benefits until your claim is approved or denied, for a maximum of six months. If your claim is ultimately denied, you don't have to repay the presumptive disability benefits. There are no presumptive disability payments for SSDI applicants.
Updated January 28, 2022